Max STEINER (1888-1971)
Adventures of Don Juan (orch. Murray Cutter) (1948) [81:21]
Arsenic and Old Lace (orch. Hugo Friedhofer) (1941/44) [30:53]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. 96kHz/24-bit resolution, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, October 2011.
TRIBUTE TFC-1009 [59:57 + 52:17]
Adventures of Don Juan
Undoubtedly one of Warner Bros. prime assets, Errol Flynn was consistently assigned top musical talent to score his films. Erich Wolfgang Korngold scored seven Flynn films including The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and, finally, Escape Me Never. Max Steiner wrote music for fifteen including The Charge of the Light Brigade, They Died with Their Boots On and Dodge City. Flynn films also benefited from the talents of other major Hollywood composers including Franz Waxman who scored Objective Burma and Max Steiner’s main orchestrator, Hugo Friedhofer, who created the music for The Sun Also Rises for 20th Century Fox..
The 1947/48 film Adventures of Don Juan was originally slated for production some four years earlier but was delayed because of numerous shutdowns, script ‘doctoring’ and other delays. This is all detailed in the fascinating film production notes contributed by James D’Arc and Ryan Brennan in the excellent 68-page book that accompanies this CD set. By the time the cameras rolled, Korngold, who had originally been given the assignment, had left the studio, disillusioned with the genre. Max Steiner took over. It is interesting to note that Steiner’s celebrated Warner Bros fanfare, usually heard behind the studio’s famous shield logo whenever Steiner’s music is used, is not heard in this film – a nice subtle homage to the departed Korngold?
By the time Flynn was on the Don Juan set he was approaching 40 and not as fit or as handsome as he was in his late twenties when he wowed film fans as Captain Blood and Robin Hood. Nevertheless the old charm was still very much in evidence and one senses that his tongue was firmly in his cheek, relishing sending up his on-screen - and off-screen - swashbuckling persona as the notorious Don Juan. Actually, his drinking and ill-health seriously upset the film’s shooting schedule sending it way over budget.
Max Steiner’s music for this film was a triumph. The score requires a huge orchestra with augmented woodwind and brass sections. Add to this six percussionists using an impressive array of instruments including timpani, various sized bass drums, gongs and cymbals, plus snare drums, field drums, tubular bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, two vibraphones, castanets, tambourines, triangle and ratchet. Such an exotic percussion armoury is used in the scintillating and majestic ‘London Processional’ cue which also utilises a huge brass section. That same cue has a counterbalancing intimate little minuet, which is something of an arrangement of an 18th century piece, for one of Don Juan’s conquests. Steiner also creates an imposing, attention-grabbing, brass-dominated fanfare that not only underscores the Warner Bros logo right at the start of the film, but also crops up later to depict King Philip III of Spain and his court.
Steiner’s main theme for the film is a memorable, cheeky, little six-note figure that admirably sums up the devil-may-care but heroic character of Don Juan. This little theme is subject to innumerable clever variations according to the requirements of the screenplay including whimsical parodies of it for cuckolded husbands. There is a delightful ‘Serenade’ for Juan’s many amours. In the cue, ‘Donna Elena’s Advances’, Steiner cleverly uses a flute obbligato to mimic a nightingale during a midnight tryst in the lady’s garden. The most romantic music is reserved for Juan’s love for Queen Margaret (Viveca Lindfors). This lovely melody reaches its passionate climax at ‘Juan’s Victory/Finale’ when Margaret finally yields to her passion but is persuaded by Juan that she must remember her duty. There must also be dark, foreboding music for the dastardly villain De Lorca (Robert Douglas). Steiner responds with material that positively reeks of evil. An atmosphere of doom and menace is created with ominous drum rolls, bass piano chords and low growling woodwinds.
This new recording reveals the riches of the complete score in spectacular modern sound.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Mortimer: “There’s a body in the window seat!’
Aunt Abby: “Yes dear, we know!”
Frank Capra’s delightful, oddball, black comedy was about a mentally unbalanced family comprising: two sweet, elderly sisters who poison their old gentlemen guests (out of what they believe is kindness) and hide them under their window seat until their delusional brother, Uncle Teddy, is ready to bury them in the cellar thinking they are yellow fever victims at the Panama Canal; the hero’s elder brother, the psychotic killer Jonathan (Raymond Massey) and his bizarre associate Dr Einstein (Peter Lorre); and the eccentric hero, himself, Mortimer Brewster - an eye-popping Cary Grant acting well over the top. The film was completed in late 1941 but its release was delayed because contractual obligations insisted that the stage version had to wind up first – it ran for an astonishing 1,444 performances on Broadway.
Max Steiner created an equally OTT eccentric score but based it on some very imaginative and colourful variations on some familiar melodies. In this he was aided by Hugo Friedhofer’s brilliant, witty and scary orchestrations. The main source music is of the children’s hymn, ‘There is a Happy Land, Far, Far Away’ which forms the main theme and encompasses the child-like insanity of the Brewster family and their ultimate fate. Steiner twists this innocent little tune into darker, frightening motifs for the sinister elements of the story. Other tunes used along the way include: ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’, to intensify the madness of the baseball fans, Wagner’s Bridal Chorus for the romance between Mortimer and Elaine (Priscilla Lane) and a sardonic, warped version of ‘Home, Sweet Home’.
An interesting bonus track rounds off CD 2 – Steiner’s trailer music for the 3D horror film House of Wax which, in the end, was to be scored by David Buttolph.
The lavishly illustrated 68-page booklet referred to at the beginning of this
review carries full track analyses of both film scores and articles by Tribute’s
wonderful regular production team of Anna Bonn, conductor William Stromberg
and the restoring genius John Morgan.
Two memorable scores - a generous double treat for Max Steiner fans
Ian (Old) Lace
Two memorable scores - a generous double treat for Max Steiner fans
CD 1 – Adventures of Don Juan
1 Main Title/Balcony Rendezvous
2 Cecil Returns
3 Adopting a Royal Escort
4 London Processional
5 Minuet/Diana Recognises Don Juan
6 The Impostor is Arrested
7 Sent Home to Madrid
8 Don Juan’s Reputation
9 Battle with the Press Gang
10 His Majesty the King
11 Queen Margaret of Spain
12 Juan Presents Himself to the Queen
13 A New Enemy for the Duke de Lorca
14 Kidnapping the Count de Polan
15 Remanded to the Dungeon
16 A Close Shave/Leporello is Unsettled
17 Fencing Master
18 The Hall of Flags/ Meeting with De Lorca
19 Paragon Among Queens
20 Donna Elena’s Advances
21 Sebastian Pleads for Don Juan
22 De Polan’s Capture is Discovered
23 Juan Eludes Alvarez’s Men
24 Captured in the Palace
25 Count de Polan is Rescued
26 Battle in the Dungeon
CD 2 – Adventures of Don Juan (contd.)
The Royal Chapel
Palace Guards on Patrol
The Patrols Vie for Freedom
Duel with De Lorca
Adventures of Don Juan Trailer
- Arsenic and Old Lace
Main Title/Baseball à la Brooklyn
Brewster Bows Out
Just Look in the Window Seat
Mortimer’s Ghastly Discovery/The Prodigal Son Returns
Jonathan Becomes Disagreeable
A Frightful Sight at the Window
Silencing Elaine/Operating on Mortimer
End Title/End Cast
Arsenic and Old Lace - Trailer
Baseball à la Brooklyn (alternative)
House of Wax - Trailer